I’m doing a little writing project on Paul’s conception of the church and have been reflecting on some recent online discussions about the church – its virtues, its faults, its necessity, and its possible dispensability.
I’m struck by how I resonate with people who write critiques of the church. And I tend to agree with those who write pointed responses.
There’s clearly much to be said about the church and our experiences with communities of God’s people.
I was reminded of this passage in Life Together in which Bonhoeffer reflects on the clash between our imagined ideal church experience and the actual communities we encounter:
Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and try to realize it.
By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.
The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community, the better for both. A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community. Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial (emphasis added).
He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together.
Thanks to my friend, Kyle Bos, for alerting me to this passage. Cited from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1954), pp. 14-15.